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Published: April 9th 2016
DushanbeDay 76 Sunday 3rd April 2016 – Osh to Khujand (Tajikistan)
The Parchan, white marble column
Both excited and anxious about moving to another country today, the transferring should be easy it is what lies ahead that has us slightly worried. Tajikistan wasn’t initially on our plan but when we discovered it was safe and easy to do we slotted it in. Our plan had us travelling down the Pamir Highway and Wakhan Valley but stupid me didn’t pay full attention to the fine print regarding weather. We shifted our departure date a few times and as Tajik wasn’t the priority I lost sight of the significance that the Pamir is really only accessible from July to September. If it is a good spring you can do it in May but at the moment the latest word we have got it is that it is still a no go. Both really disappointed that we had to cut it out but decided to try and see a bit of Tajik all the same.
Today we are spoiling ourselves as our mode of transport is a black Lexus 4 wheel drive from “Munduz Tourist” which is a small travel
Statue of Ismoil Somoni
agents in Osh and we are being taken by Yosiddinov and his wife who own and run the business. We had put aside a kitty of cash for the jeeps down the Pamir and opted to blow a bit of it on our ride today. We were going to get a hired driver but Yosiddinov and his wife had business in Khujand to attend to so decided to give us the ride which worked out well as they ended up giving us a full guided tour throughout the journey.
It was about three hours to the border and we passed through heaps of small country towns and fertile fields. Inside Kyrgyzstan are two small zones, one owned and occupied by Tajikistan and the other by Uzbekistan, both are marooned inside Kyrgyzstan as good as a Pacific island is in the Pacific. This again was the brain child of Stalin who drew up the borders in the 1950’s and is still causing trouble to this day. Last week Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan mobilized their armies again over a disputed portions of this border and although thankfully the tension has simmered down they have closed all border crossings to nationals.
Bread in the Bazaar
Usually traffic from Osh to the border town of Batken used to drive right through the Uzbekistan “island” but today the guards were there on the road barring our way so we had to take a long drive around.
Got to the Kyrgyzstan border control and got stamped out within minutes after having our bags x-rayed, and just down the road got stamped into Tajikistan just as quick. At the Tajik border control there was no computerised entry just our details hand written into a journal and no bag X-rays.An hour down the road and we got to our destination of the city of Khujand and from first impressions it looks pretty good. We were so glad our drivers could speak English because when we go to our hotel “The Armon Apartment Hotel” we discovered the only people there were cleaning staff and not only did none of them speak English but they couldn’t use the computer and did not have our booking. It was a weird awkward three way discussion lasting twenty minutes before we found ourselves in our own large apartment. We always seem to have trouble when booking “apartments” and tend to avoid them
but this one claimed it had a washing machine and dryer so we took the chance. Bad news was our apartment doesn’t have either but the good news was the cleaning lady said she would wash our dirty clothes for free; what a difference from Kyrgyzstan where they wanted $60 a load. Said goodbye to our driver and guide and then hit the town.
Khujand is located on the Syr-Darya river and our hotel is located near the shoreline but on the opposite side to the main town so we walked across the bridge in search of an ATM for money. Found a few but none would give us cash but we finally found a currency exchange place where to our relief we have some local money. Once again we have to get our heads around a different currency exchange fee ($1 AUD = 6 Tajik Somoni). Walked around a bit trying to find somewhere to get a beer and a feed and didn’t so headed back to our hotel and on the corner was a pizza and burger place where we had a small late lunch. A couple of bars are nearby but all are closed
Inside the Bazaar
and unsure if that is because it is Sunday, although that seems odd for a Muslim country. Unlike Kyrgyzstan we did not see beer (or vodka) in the supermarkets but was readily available at the petrol station shop, not sure what their drink driving laws are like. By this stage the weather was turning foul so we headed back to our apartment. Day 77 Monday 4th April 2016 – Khujand
Out of bed to see glorious sunshine. Was supposed to get breakfast with our room and it was an added cost, but after the problems with communication at check in we rightly guessed we wouldn’t be getting it. Wandered down to a take away coffee place at the end of the street and got a very sweet cappuccino and a stale muffin for $3. Returned to our room to work out a few things like where are we staying tomorrow night and how are we going to get there? Both are a bit perplexing. Decided we should head upstairs to the hotel office and see if we can pay for our room and thankfully today the owner
Outside the Bazaar
Zebunniso Solieva was here to help us. Yesterday she had been at a wedding and so that is why we were left to the mercy of her non-English speaking staff.
We were able to pay our bill and Zebunniso was able to give us some great advice on how to get to our next destination and what to see and eat in town. With our head full of suggestions we hit the streets and walked across the bridge back into the central part of town. Next to the river bank is a fabulous new park that is filled with colourful flower beds, little eateries and ornate kiosks. Three large timber roofed platforms sit at one end of the park and look incredible except for the ugly white drain pipes coming off the roof that truly ruin their aesthetics. Next to this park is the mud brick ruins of the 10th
Century citadel that is supposedly built on the spot where Alexander the Great founded this city. I still find it incredible how the guy marched at the head of his army all the way from Greece and founded cities in places like this.
Government Buildings and River
here we did a long walk down the main drag to the central bazaar which has been described as “Central Asia’s largest” which is now the second one we have been to that is the “largest”. I guess it is almost impossible to measure these things so it is an easy crown to wear. The bazaar is mainly housed in a large Soviet built building but now spills out over the surrounding plaza and streets. Most of the stuff on sale is fresh produce and it all looks and smells fantastic. Not a lot of meat except around the edges, most of it being fruit, veggies, tea, honey and nuts, so it would be fairly safe for vegans to wander through. Down the centre aisle of the markets were all the bread sellers, and the bread here is round about the size of a Frisbee, flat in the centre and thick around the outside. Each baker creates different patterns, seed arrangements or glazes on his bread so each is unique and if you get it hot it is divine. At the market most is cold and stacked in huge piles, and you sometimes see the owners polishing there bread with
Pavilions in the park, and those drainpipes
a rag whilst waiting for a sale. Not sure if this is Central Asia’s largest but it was probably the cleanest and most orderly market we have been to, but that might change on a weekend. Across from the bazaar is a collection of mosques of all differing time periods right up to a new one that is still under construction.
From here we walked back into the centre of town and got a great feed of meat kebabs for $7 before heading home. Just near our hotel we took a short detour to look at a building a couple of blocks away that we had spotted this morning. Really unique building that had towers and domes on it and is now boarded up and deserted. Got speaking to a young guy across the road from it and in a very difficult English/Tajik conversation he explained his father once owned it. It was the sort of place we would love to own and restore, but would we like to live in Khujand Tajikistan?
In the early evening we went off to get a feed and discovered that the bar across the road from the
Reconstructed walls of the Castle
hotel was open. It is called “Chelsea” in honour of the British football club and is mainly open air except for a couple of tables under thatched roofs. The waiter was really friendly and was excited about having foreigners at his table and we may have stayed longer, but the beer was warm and flat and we had a big journey tomorrow so left after two. Day 78 Tuesday 5th April 2016 – Dushanbe
Moving on today, so once again it is an early start, no breakfast with this hotel but it comes with its own kitchen and we are now carrying tea and coffee so at least we could start the day with caffeine. Zebunniso who runs the hotel said she would be around when we checked out and thankfully she was and was able to organise a taxi to the “bus terminal” and for the driver to negotiate a price for a vehicle to the next town. Usually we prefer doing the hard work ourselves but submitted to a go-between today. Initially the price for an exclusive jeep to Dushanbe started at 600 Somoni ($100 AUD) but we got
Khujand Street scene
a discount of 50 Somoni ($9 AUD) after a bit of haggling. Our taxi driver was great and he really ensured we were getting the best deal and that we got away without any hassle. Our new driver however was after the best deal for himself and after driving away from the bus terminal turned around picked up some almonds to give to us as “a gift” and then returned to the bus terminal to pick up another passenger. We were supposed to have the jeep to ourselves but was okay with having another passenger in the front seat, as at least it would keep him occupied. Our drive today came with a soundtrack and it was Tajikistani hip hop/ techno which was okay, and was sort of Middle Eastern with a hint of Indian. The music maybe not to everyone’s taste but we didn’t mind it although the other woman passenger had a battle with the driver over the volume control.
Hate to sound boring but todays scenery was amazing, and perhaps the best so far on this trip. The road started out flat passing fields of assorted crops but we were soon climbing up into
Khujand to Dushanbe
Entrance to the longest tunnel
the mountains and driving through snow. We eventually reached an opening to a tunnel where the driver had to stop and talk to an army guy before proceeding in. There was actually two tunnels, one for trucks which looked reasonably large and the one we entered which was just a bit larger than one lane wide. This tunnel was 5km long and was perhaps the weirdest piece of asphalt we have ever travelled down. The tunnel was very smoggy, and had lights hanging from the ceiling that gave a very strange eerily sepia feel to the experience. Sort of felt like a narrow highway to hell. The other larger tunnel must have been for trucks as there was a line up to enter but unsure why they were waiting. Half way along our tunnel and we met onward traffic and couldn’t believe we could actually squeeze past as it was so narrow we had assumed it was one way. Was really concerned how Shelley was dealing with the suffocating confines of the tunnel as it was pretty full on and was ready to have to grab her if she went to reach for the door handle but she managed like
Khujand to Dushanbe
Snow avalanche on the road
the professional trooper she is.
We ended up going through another long tunnel and several short tunnels and traversed scenery that was perhaps the best we have seen on this trip so far. At one point we had to edge our way through a snow avalanche that was still being cleared up, which was a first for us. The mountain scenery in this corner of the world is spectacular. After our last tunnel high pass we wound our way down the mountain towards Dushanbe passing through towns that were obviously set up for the local summer trade, with lots of river side swimming pools.
Just as we got to the outskirts of Dushanbe our driver called Zebunniso at our hotel and passed the phone to us so we could confirm that everything was OK; nice to know that we were being looked after. Shortly afterwards we stopped and had to transfer to a taxi, which had us worried we were being set up for a con job but it worked out okay and he was included in our original price. Our new driver initially delivered us to the wrong hotel but eventually he got
Khujand to Dushanbe
The road winding around the mountain
us there. The Kayon Complex 1 (rather than the Kayon complex 2 and 3) is an average mid-range hotel for Dushanbe, and is a stones throw from the centre of town- a fact demonstrated as an accurate measurement during the riots of the 1990’s. Although the room is vastly overpriced for what you get, it is a lot cheaper than the other alternatives in town. The room is actually a sort of a small apartment with two bedrooms a lounge room and grand bed and wardrobe. The room came with a television that supposedly has 1000 TV channels including Arabic porn (who knew that even existed, but not surprised) but sadly nothing worked including the WiFi-travel hate number one in my books.
Just after settling in our room and working out what we were going to do, we felt a shudder through the building. Unlike a lot of people in the world we have only experienced earthquakes at a distance so we knew straight away that we had just copped a distant minor one. Later on we got a WiFi signal and was able to check on the internet and sure enough a 5.0 Earthquake had hit
Khujand to Dushanbe
Snowed in Road Plant
just across in Uzbekistan. We did the usual walk around our area and got supplies from a supermarket a block away before settling in at an Irish Pub at the bottom of the street. The local draught beer was only 130 Somoni ($2.10 AUD) for 500ml and isn’t a bad drop. The “Public Pub” isn’t bad either although the food ended up being a bit dodgy and overpriced, then the great blues music soon turned to bad country and western but all round could easily recommend it. Had to keep pinching ourselves that we were in Dushanbe as we expected a fairly rough old town. Day 79 Wednesday 6th April 2016 – Dushanbe
Up early today as we were both keen to look over this city, which was just as well as we got a phone call at 7.45 to tell us our breakfast was ready; never had that before. After our feed we hit the streets and must say that Dushanbe is a great place. The city has a population of about 780,000, which for a capital is quite a modest number. The streets are lined with lots of trees
and the gardens are filled with flowers and in particular tulips. There is lots of parks, open spaces, grand buildings and cars stop for you when you walk across pedestrian crossings. It is hard to believe this country went through a nasty civil war back in the nineties and armed gangs roamed this city with regular gun battles and it wasn’t till 2002 that peace was finally cemented in town.
First on the agenda today was the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan. The town has a huge brand new museum and this old one, but apparently the old one is better as it still has all the original artifacts whilst the new one is filled with replicas. It now costs 50 Som ($8) each to enter as opposed to 20 Som that the Lonely Planet states. The museum is only fairly small and most of the artifacts are prehistoric flints and arrowheads and a vast collection of broken pottery; my favourite. The real highlight was a massive 13m long reclining clay Buddha that was unearthed in the south of the country. We were the only ones in the museum and we had a woman from the
Khujand to Dushanbe
Three road protection tunnels
museum follow us around to make sure we didn’t take any photos, she was not full on like some museum that stand on top of you.
From the museum we went to a café down the road from our hotel for a coffee and a sandwich. The café was a small trendy thing that wouldn’t look out of place in Newtown Sydney, and once again we had to pinch ourselves and remind ourselves where we were. Spent the rest of the afternoon trying to cash our remaining Kyrgyzstani Som into Tajikistan Somoni and was directed from one bank to another but ultimately no one wanted them so we are stuck with them for the moment.
Ended up visiting the huge statue of Ismoil Somoni in the centre of town, where a policeman who guards the statue befriended us and wanted to show us where all the best places to take photos from and then tried to tell us that we were not allowed to take photos and we would need to pay him. Two can play that game, so we both pretended we didn’t understand what he was talking about as we high tailed
The wide streets of the Capital
it away from him.
Late in the afternoon we returned to the Irish Pub to listen to more Country and Western and drink a few beers. Ended up making a bit of a night of it. Day 80 Thursday 7th April 2016 – Dushanbe
Despite having a “good” night we woke up feeling pretty good and hit the streets once more for a bit of a look over the town. Spent the morning walking around the vast array of parklands and checked out the number one attraction in town which is the second highest flagpole in the world, it was number one but lost its crown in 2014 to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Sort of sounds like something the Griswalds would visit on the way to Wally World, but when you stand under it, it really is impressive. I guess at this point we could make all sorts of Freudian jokes relating to the people who instigated the world’s highest flagpoles, but decided it might be best to leave that one alone. The town also boasts the world’s largest “Tea House”, and we may
Tulips in the Park
have visited if it had been the world’s largest “beer house” but couldn’t find the effort to walk the 500 metres further down the road for a cup of tea.
For lunch we returned to the café from yesterday and spent a few hours over a feed and cups of coffee. We both really love this town and it has such a great vibe, and it is amazing how clean it is and how well dressed everyone is, even the young guys wear suits and ties in the park; we both felt like the biggest dags walking around in cargo pants and T-shirts.
During our walk today we spotted another Irish Pub two blocks from our hotel, this one is also quite big but a lot quieter. The waiter was very friendly and when I asked for a second beer they had run out of my brand, I had visions of Bishkek but no, someone must have run down to the shops and got more as shortly afterwards I got what I wanted. The food was a lot nicer here and cheaper so it turned out to be a good spot. We would both
The new museum beside a lake
have loved to spend more time in this town as it feels great except other than eat, drink and sit in the park, there isn’t a lot else to hold your interest, and we have a date with another town and another country.
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